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Upgrades to Immaculate Conception's cemetery almost complete

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - The tombstone of Jennie Hefferle (1911-1925) in the children's section of Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Irwin on Nov. 16, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>The tombstone of Jennie Hefferle (1911-1925) in the children's section of Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Irwin on Nov. 16, 2012.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - A memorial obelisk, dedicated in 2011, in the children's section of Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Irwin on Nov. 16, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>A memorial obelisk, dedicated in 2011, in the children's section of Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Irwin on Nov. 16, 2012.

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 11:26 p.m.
 

Upgrades to Immaculate Conception's cemetery are almost complete, as the Irwin parish celebrates 150 years.

The cemetery, which dates back to 1873, covers 15 acres next to Union Cemetery, about a mile from the parish's Second Street location. Updates include adding space for 500 more cemetery plots and improving the children's burial section with an obelisk in their memory.

About 9,500 people are buried in the cemetery, including about 440 in the children's section, some dating back to 1885.

Many of those children perished during the early-1900s influenza pandemic, said the Rev. John Moineau, the parish's pastor for the past seven years.

“When the flu hit, children were the biggest hit,” Moineau said. “The fathers had to basically dig the graves and bury their own kids.”

It's difficult to tell exactly how many children died of the flu because records don't always list a cause of death, said Jerry Kunkle of Irwin, who serves as cemetery director.

Many children were buried there without grave markers, Moineau said, and other concrete markers disintegrated over the years.

Some records for the children list descriptions like “two year old” as the only identifying information. Graves went unmarked because maybe the family could not afford a marker or perhaps did not want to mark the site, Moineau said.

“We decided to erect an obelisk in memory of the children,” Moineau said. “This obelisk would be a marker to remind us of the section and the children.”

Crumbling concrete crosses were removed, and the engraved gray obelisk is complete, surrounded by a walled, concrete patio and shrubbery.

A sidewalk and small parking lot are in the works.

The renovation not only respects the children interred there, “but the whole sacred ground,” Moineau said.

Kunkle has worked to remap the cemetery, Moineau said.

In days past, Moineau said, the stone marker served as a record, not necessarily anything written.

About 2,300 families belong to Immaculate Conception Parish.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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